Graca Machel speaks out

Maputo — Graca Machel, the widow of Mozambique's first President, Samora Machel, has become the first prominent figure in the ruling Frelimo Party to declare publicly that the regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is illegitimate.

Speaking in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Machel, who is now married to the former South African President Nelson Mandela, declared that Mugabe's government had lost legitimacy by turning against its people.

She was addressing a lunch launching the "Save Zimbabwe Now" campaign, organised by South African church leaders, headed by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu

According to the reports of her speech in the South African and international media, Machel declared "I stand here today with a very, very heavy heart. My heart is bleeding because of what is happening in Zimbabwe, people are being brutalized because they voted against the regime. We are together and will not accept this anymore; we can no longer stand and wait. I want to add my voice to the women of Zimbabwe, those who have been abducted, raped and brutalized."

In particular, Machel called for the release of jailed activists such as Jestina Mukoko. Mukoko, the director of the prominent NGO, the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was abducted from her Harare home on 3 December by unidentified agents of the Zimbabwean state, held in a clandestine detention centre for three weeks, and then hauled before a court on 24 December. She has spoken in harrowing terms of how she was tortured, and denied medical care, as her interrogators tried to force her to confess to imaginary crimes.

"We want Jestina Mukoko and all those who are in prison to be released now", said Machel. If anyone succumbs in the jail, the blame will be on the hands of Mugabe and his security forces. We trusted for too long."

Machel called for action by SADC (Southern African Development Community) to end the Zimbabwean crisis. "I want to say to our leaders and SADC, this is no longer a Zimbabwean issue", she stressed. "The SADC leaders have the responsibility to solve this. Their mandate is to stop the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe. They have this mandate from the millions of voters who voted for them in this sub-region."

"I have been part of those who waited and trusted that our leaders knew what they were doing," Machel admitted, "that they would find a solution. Somehow one has to accept we stood and waited for too long."

"The blood of those dying on a daily basis in Zimbabwe will be laid at the feet of the Southern African Development Community leadership, as they are failing to undertake duties they are elected to do", Machel accused. "Your heart stings when you remember the thousands and thousands of women, children, men, young and old, who, in the meantime, passed on and whose lives could have been saved".

She even compared the suffering in Zimbabwe to the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur, and called on Mugabe's regime to stop blaming western powers. "I want to say to the leadership who are in government in Zimbabwe that a government must protect its citizens", she said. "Those citizens who are being abducted and killed have nothing to do with its contradictions with the USA, Britain and the west. It is their duty to protect their citizens. "It's how you treat your own citizens; that's where your legitimacy comes from." "Any government which goes out and assaults its own people, its own citizens, it has lost completely any kind of legitimacy," she said.

Zimbabwe was also a warning to other former liberation movements now in power, "We came together to liberate ourselves but now we show that power and the way you exercise power can pervert you to become precisely the opposite of what led you to became a freedom fighter," Machel said.

The churchmen behind the "Save Zimbabwe Now" campaign are planning a series of hunger strikes to draw attention to the crisis - and to the fact that most Zimbabweans are now facing food shortages. Most of the fasting will be symbolic - the campaigners will deprive themselves of food for one day a week.

But the President of the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Kumi Naidoo, and the Chairperson of the South African Gender Commission, Nombiso Gasa, have pledged to go without food (but drinking water), for 21 consecutive days.

Another of the 21 day fasters is a Zimbabwean churchman who shares the President's name. Paster Wilson Mugabe said the people of Zimbabwe are already "on a forced fast by the government. We have become beggars.
Yesterday we were people who could feed the whole of southern Africa".

Pastor Mugabe broke down in the middle of his emotional speech, and was comforted by Graca Machel.

The campaign was launched in the wake of the latest failed attempt to implement the power sharing deal signed on 15 September by Mugabe's ZANU-PF, and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Mugabe met with his opponents in Harare on Monday, in the presence of the Mozambican and South African Presidents, Armando Guebuza and Kgalema Motlanthe, Neither side moved an inch from its earlier positions.

Now the issue goes to a SADC extraordinary summit next Monday, to be held either in South Africa or Botswana. It remains to be seen what impact the "Save Zimbabwe Now" campaign may have on the SADC leaders.

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